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Spain opens probe into King Juan Carlos's hunting expenses

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AFP/The Local - [email protected]
Spain opens probe into King Juan Carlos's hunting expenses
Spanish King Juan Carlos leaving the hospital in 2012 after breaking his hip on an African elephant hunting trip in Botswana. “Sorry, it won’t happen again,” he told journalists at the time. (Photo by PACO CAMPOS / POOL / AFP)

Spain's tax office has opened an investigation into the former king's expenses during hunting expeditions, a newspaper reported Wednesday, just months after prosecutors shelved three other probes into his financial affairs.

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According to El Mundo daily, the tax office has asked Juan Carlos I "to account for the origin of funds used to pay for the flights and other expenses incurred" on various hunting trips between 2014 and 2018.

The suspicion is that the hunting trips, which took place after his abdication in 2014 when he no longer benefitted from immunity as king, were paid for as a gift.

Taxpayers in Spain must declare any gifts received to the authorities within a certain timeframe.

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Contacted by AFP, the tax office refused to comment.

The former king flew back to Spain last month for his first visit in nearly two years, since fleeing to Abu Dhabi to live in self-imposed exile following a string of financial scandals.

Although prosecutors closed their probes into his affairs in March, revelations about the murky origins of his fortune have done irreparable damage to a figure once revered for his role in Spain's democratic transition after decades of dictatorship.

According to the newspaper, the sums involved do not exceed €120,000  ($129,000) per year, which is the threshold for an offence against the treasury.

Such an offence carries a penalty of between one and five years in prison.

Earlier this year, prosecutors admitted identifying "sums defrauded from the Treasury" between 2008 and 2012 but said they were dropping the case for reasons including "the inviolability of the head of state and tax regularisation" payments he made in recent years.



No more regattas... for now

Since leaving Spain in August 2020, Juan Carlos has twice settled tax debts on undeclared income for over five million euros ($5.37 million) in what was widely seen as a bid to avoid being charged with a crime.

During his brief trip home last month, which stirred much controversy, the 84-year-old attended a regatta in Sanxenxo in the north-western Galicia region then spent half a day at Madrid's Zarzuela Palace with his son, King Felipe VI, and other family members.

He had been due to return this weekend for another regatta featuring his six-metre (20-foot) racing yacht "Bribon" (Spanish for 'rascal'), but recently pulled out, a spokesman for the Sanxenxo sailing club told AFP.

El País newspaper said his decision was likely taken in light of the palace's determination to avoid another controversial media spectacle such as that generated by his first trip.

It is not the first time that Juan Carlos' passion for hunting has got him into trouble: 10 years ago, when Spain was mired in recession during the global financial crisis, it emerged that he had taken a luxury elephant hunting trip in Botswana with his former lover.

Details came out after he broke his hip and had to be flown home for surgery, prompting him to publicly apologise.

That incident shattered years of silence over his opulent lifestyle, ruining his image and triggering a string of investigations into his opaque fortune.

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